It was in the month of May last year that I'd last visited a temple, and that too because a friend of mine had suddenly found religion, thanks to the Boards. Not only did she drag me off to a neighbourhood temple the day before the exams began, the stress-busting walk that we took the day before the results were to come out also somehow had a temple pitstop.
Neither of the visits was particularly enjoyable. Why on earth do these North Indian temples have so much marble? That particular stone strikes me as very artificial and worldly, probably because of its overuse in rich people's homes these days. Also, marble gets damnably slippery when it's wet. It gets rather hard to concentrate on peaceful Godly thoughts when one is trying not to land up on the floor butt first. Or when its much more fun to watch the people nearby as they flail about, trying to keep their balance.
Not that I'm an authority on temples, mind you. I'm not a very religious person, probably because neither of my parents is. It's been ages since we carried out the mallu tradition of lighting a lamp at dusk and praying by it. My brother and I know no bhajans and no keertans. In fact, when I was watching that bus scene in 'Mr. and Mrs. Iyer' last year, I was wondering what I would do if somebody asked me to prove that I was a Hindu.
However, despite not being religious, or perhaps because of it, I expect certain things from temples. None of the crowd and bustle of famous temples for me, thank you. I don't see any point in standing in queue just to be able to file past the deity and catch a glimpse of a stone idol smothered in colourful silks. Nor do I see any point in praying to any particular version of God, out of the thousands that we have in Hinduism. Vishnu, Lakshmi, Parvathi, Ganesh, Shivji, Brahma - what differance does it make?
I have a fixed idea about what a temple should be like. Unfortunately, my expectations are rather high. You see, I had the misfortune of living in Thrissur at an early age. I say misfortune, because Thrissur is choke-full of beautiful temples. Which is, of course, a good thing, except that my parents, displaying an enthusiasm I've never seen in them since, insisted on visiting them all one by one. And they dragged me along.
Now, in case you don't know, Thrissur's temples are so many and so varied, that there's something for everyone. You just have to fall in love with at least one of them. My favourite was the exquisite Vadakkunnathan. I have memories of walking barefoot inside the temple compound, the wet stone beneath my feet, breathing in air moisture-laden from the previous night's rain. Even then, aged eight or nine, knowing nothing of the temple's history or even which deity was which, I felt at peace.
Since then, no temple has come close to fulfilling that need in me. I need a temple that offers me sanctuary and allows me to think, to reflect. I need quiet. I need temples made of rough stone, with simple stone idols that are not revered as Gods, that are present only to act as points to focus on. I need temples with plenty of space to walk about in and maybe a couple of banyan trees to sit under and think.
I need temples that give me peace. Isn't that what they are supposed to be for, after all?